An assistant professor of Strategy and International Business at the University of Bath, United Kingdom, Tahiru Azaaviele Leidong, has said that recent moves by President Muhammadu Buhari to partially close Nigeria’s border with Benin in an effort to stem the smuggling of rice, raises serious concerns, SABC reports.
Leidong said even though closure of border is not new in Africa, Nigeria's actions raise important concerns about the seriousness and prospects of regional integration in Africa.
He said, “African countries have different economic configurations and strategic priorities.
“The huge number of diverse countries within the free trade area isn’t going to make things easy.
“Indeed, free trade has its benefits but it also has costs. Nigeria’s bid to protect a declining rice farming industry and save foreign exchange has led to protectionism that defies the principles of a free trade area.
“The African Union has been muted on the issue of the border closures. This might be because it does not yet have detailed institutional arrangements for settling disputes within the free trade area.
“Another factor might be that it has been quiet because Nigeria is involved.
“As Africa’s largest economy, the AU courted it earnestly to sign. The agreement needs Nigeria, arguably at whatever cost.
“The regional trade bloc ECOWAS has also failed to bring Nigeria to heel.
“Both Nigeria and Benin are members of the bloc, created in 1975. All it has done so far is to appeal for the borders to be opened. It clearly has no enforcement power.
“Nigeria’s border closure may be a precursor. More incidents like this can be expected as the realities of free trade kick in. Some countries will lose, others will gain.
“The AU needs protocols and measures to manage free trade, as well as programmes to prepare political leaders for the realities that will follow.
“The free trade area should not be a mere symbol. It must be fully understood and appreciated for it to succeed.
“The Nigeria border closure must be resolved as soon as possible.
“It is diverting attention and positive energy from matters that can promote the free trade area, such as investments in transport infrastructure, trade data capture and border protection.
“More importantly, it is a bad precedent that could reduce other countries’ commitments to economic integration in Africa. The AU must act now, or prepare to bury the free trade deal.”